Here’s the whole incredible paragraph…
“They pay us,” Nureyev once said, “for our fear.” Sure, vanity, self-indulgence and cruelty ran rampant throughout his short, tempestuous life. But he faced death with defiance not only when he was dying. In daring to be so vehemently, disobediently alive, he faced it, for us, every time he stepped onstage. Great dancing, unlike good dancing, is an experience of beauty laced with pity, a haunted happening in the shadow of our transience. Dancers are willing slaves to the time and gravity that rule us all, and dancing is mortality in motion. Ultimately, even Rudolf Nureyev was not paid enough for his courage.
…from Bentley’s NY Times book review on the Nureyev bio. (Choreographer Lise Brenner expressed similar sentiments here. Scroll down a bit.)
And here’s another paragraph–the best explanation I’ve read for why he would have danced so far past his prime:
In his final years, Nureyev insisted on literally, excruciatingly, dying before our eyes, giving performances so ragged and inept that audiences whistled and demanded refunds — which suggests something besides simple flouting of the cardinal rule that performers should know when to retire gracefully. He was ill, but the stage was his only real home, so he stayed there. He demanded, somehow, that we see the suffering human behind the Dionysian god. He continued to the end in that transparent recklessness that was his deepest gift as a dancer. Nureyev, like Maria Callas (as Clive Barnes once noted), popularized and changed his art form forever, with a combination of technique, dedication and respect for its tradition, while simultaneously blowing it wide open with a kind of divine individual desperation.
From Foot contributor Eva Yaa Asantewaa: That whole review rocks, but Nureyev’s own words–“They pay us for our fear”–rock steadiest of all.
Apollinaire responds: I’m glad you liked it, Eva. Re: Nureyev’s words, other performers have told me about that pure, primitive terror of being out in front of the spotlights, like a gladiator. It surprised me. I’d always assumed that performers, being performers, weren’t so prone to nerves. But, in Nureyev’s case especially, it makes sense. He holds so little back, as if he had to propel himself past his fear.
Choreographer/dancer Clare Byrne writes in: Wow, very interesting. This makes me think there’s nothing humans are fascinated in seeing more than someone self-destruct or be destructed right in front of their eyes: the inevitable witnessed.
This is why we can’t get away from “The Rite of Spring” and its variants — it’s the only, the one, the single all-encompassing theme, and choreographers and dancers know it.
Apollinaire responds: Interesting point, Clare, that dance involves a level of sacrifice (in all sorts of senses) that people can’t turn away from.
It’s probably why the dance feature story that will not die is about the dancer who wears herself to the bone (sometimes literally) for Dance. Readers–and editors–can never get enough of that one.
[Nureyev mania on Foot began with this commentary on the PBS documentary of his youthful days in Leningrad, moved on to outrage at the reviews of Julie Kavanagh’s new mammoth biography that used the occasion to trash Nureyev, and relief at one and then another review that did more justice to the man than the bio itself.]